Research School Network: High Quality Interactions in the Early Years With the support of the EEF guidance, I’ve been able to reflect upon the facilitation of high quality communication in the EYFS


High Quality Interactions in the Early Years

With the support of the EEF guidance, I’ve been able to reflect upon the facilitation of high quality communication in the EYFS

by Billesley Research School
on the

Our Research Associate, Elizabeth Payne, explores her experiences of ensuring high quality interactions in an Early Years setting, with a little help from the EEF…

Have you ever had one of those conversations’ where you can’t get a word in edgeways? It might be that the other person is talking too fast, or you are being bombarded with questions, and given no time to respond. You can feel yourself getting flustered, you’re tripping over your words and, eventually, walk away, feeling a whole host of emotions. However, what’s more concerning is you spend time avoiding that person, fearful of experiencing another moment like that.

Now, imagine being 3 or 4 years old in a busy, loud, Early Years environment and you are playing in the Creative Area when your teacher approaches the table. What are you making? What colour is this? Who is it for? What have you drawn? You do not respond, and eventually your teacher moves on and you breathe a sigh of relief but the same thing happens the next day, and the next, with the same outcome. These are missed opportunities for high quality interactions. High quality interactions that lead to improved communication skills, vocabulary development, exploration of new concepts, consolidation of prior learning, and so much more.

Now the term High quality interaction’ is something we hear all the time in the Early Years but it got me thinking: What does a high quality interaction actually look like? Does it look the same for all children? The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) guidance report, Preparing for Literacy’ (2018) highlights the importance of these high quality interactions in relation to developing children’s communication and language skills, and recommends that this is made a priority within the Early Years. From there I asked myself why these high quality interactions are so important, and so crucial to the development of our young children. The statistics I came across concerned me greatly and made me ponder what more we could be doing to overcome these issues:

Studies found that around 50% of children are starting school with poor speech and language skills (I can, 2010)

An additional 10% of children have long term speech and language difficulties that require external and on-going support (I can, 2010)

Children on free school meals were twice as likely to not achieve expected outcomes in Communication and Language as those not on free school meals (EEF, 2017)

Those children who have English as an additional language would also fall into the category of not achieving expected outcomes (EEF, 2017)

I explored those statistics further in order to find out what this actually looks like in our Early Years classrooms, and with the help of the I Can’ report (2010), I was introduced to the term Impoverished Language’ which refers to speech and language skills that are immature or poorly developed (think of those children with unclear speech, limited vocabulary, or those that struggle with understanding simple instructions). The EEF found that around 70% of children with low-language abilities have similar issues stated above, all which can be resolved with early intervention and support. So I asked myself: how do we look to resolve these issues through our high quality interactions?

I spent some time reviewing relevant guidance and found the EEF’s Preparing for Literacy document particularly relevant to my current practice. It highlighted not only the importance of high quality interactions but also the fact that practitioners need to be highly skilled to perform them well – again reinforcing the importance of professional development within the Early Years. Even as an experienced Early Years professional, I am always looking for ways to improve and develop my own practice. Luckily for me and my team in Nursery, this year we have had the opportunity to participate in ongoing research surrounding communication skills, and we have been trained in the Learning Language and Loving It’ programme, established by the Hanen Centre. The programme centres around developing children’s social, language and literacy skills, and it has been truly well received by us all and has completely rejuvenated the way we approach our interactions with our children.

From receiving high-quality training, I know I am prepared, enthusiastic, and ready to engage in high-quality interactions with my class. I know that every morning that I enter the classroom, I am a skilled professional whose approach to interactions has completely changed since embarking on the Learning Language and Loving It programme.’ Instead of just being in the moment’ with the children I have developed much more awareness of how important it is to consider each interaction before, during, and after it has taken place.

The before is all about knowing my current class: their communication styles and stages; their interests; and what makes them tick – only then can we embark on a meaningful interaction. This year I have a few children that would be considered reluctant communicators’, so my colleagues and I have spent time reflecting and reviewing our environment, and ensuring that our classroom reflects the interests of these children. Of course, when it comes to independent learning time, with the freeflow nature of our Early Years, it is impossible to determine which children will be present at a particular area or provocation, and that reinforces the fact that to engage in high quality interactions, I need to know my children so that I can adapt my approach to those I am engaging with. I have found that the more open-ended an activity is, the easier it is to engage children, regardless of their communication style and stage. The more prescribed the activity, the less freedom the children have to take the lead – so reviewing our environment daily is crucial to our interactions. If the environment is inviting, engaging, and relevant, then we can shift the focus back to the adult to promote a high-quality interaction matching the approach to each child’s stage and style.

So what next? Time for a bit of Owling’ – Observe, Wait and Listen. Have you ever jumped into a child’s play and they just look at you blankly? Well, that’s where this simple strategy comes into play and it’s much more challenging than it sounds! Let the children lead, wait for an appropriate moment to join in, and then respond to what the children are doing or saying to allow a high quality interaction to begin. Once the interaction has begun, it is our role to sustain the interaction by selecting appropriate strategies that are dependent on the child’s needs. Let’s explore some ideas of how to continue that interaction:

Make a comment or ask a question

Provide new information or new vocabulary

Extend sentences by adding additional information

Imitate and interpret children’s attempts

Follow children’s lead in the conversation

Within the EEF guidance it recognises the importance of establishing the difference between talking with the children and talking to the children, and this is something that often gets overlooked. We need to keep the focus on the children’s interests, whether that be a comment they have made, or even an action or gesture, in order to keep the interaction going, and that means valuing their attempts at communicating whether verbal or non-verbal.

Once an interaction has taken place, you might think it just ends there but, from my recent training, I have found it incredibly important to reflect upon our interactions. What went well? What might you do differently next time? How do our interactions influence our environment? The way this worked within the training was through video reflection – one member of staff recording another, in order to reflect and review our interactions. This way of reflecting has allowed me to refine and improve my use of the key strategies to support communication development, and it is certainly something that I would like to further embed in my practice.

With the support of the practical recommendations in both the Preparing for Literacy’ guidance report and the Early Language Report’, I have been able to reflect upon, and review, my current practice, to improve the way I approach interactions and, ultimately, ensure better outcomes for our children in relation to their communication skills. It is evident that professional development and training is crucial in supporting Early Years practitioners with the most effective strategies, techniques, and approaches, to improving communication skills.

In what ways could you adapt your practice to support high-quality interactions in your setting?

More from the Billesley Research School

Show all news

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more